For over four hours on Wednesday, national security officials faced questions before a joint hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Rules Committee, the second Senate hearing this week examining the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, as lawmakers look to drill down on lapses in intelligence sharing and the delayed security response to the attack.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, Department of Defense and the D.C. National Guard were grilled on the timeline both leading up to the Capitol assault and in the hours after pro-Trump supporters first breached the building.
A key focus: why it took hours for the National Guard to arrive at the Capitol while rioters launched a brutal assault against outnumbered law enforcement and stalked through the hallways and into congressional offices searching for lawmakers and former Vice President Mike Pence.
The commander of the D.C. National Guard testified that it took three hours and 19 minutes between the time National Guard assistance was requested and the time he got word the Pentagon had approved it.
In his opening remarks, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, faulted defense officials, noting that law enforcement officials at last week's hearing on the Jan. 6 response disagreed about exactly when the Capitol Police requested National Guard assistance, while all agreed that it took "far too long for the National Guard to arrive."
"Based on the Defense Department's public timeline, once requested, it took the National Guard over three hours to arrive at the Capitol," Portman said. "It's unclear when senior Defense officials authorized the National Guard to deploy."
Portman noted that one timeline given to the public states that then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy directed the D.C. National Guard to mobilize at 3:04 p.m. However, he noted that, according to another timeline of events given to lawmakers by D.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. William Walker, the D.C. National Guard wasn't instructed to deploy until 5:08 p.m.
"We need to know why it took the Pentagon so long to deploy the National Guard," Portman said.
He noted that, according to the then-Capitol Police chief, the acting chief of D.C. police and Walker, the delay was due in part to concerns Pentagon officials had about the "optics" of the National Guard being deployed at the Capitol.
Walker testified that during a Jan 6. call to the Pentagon by then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, during which he appealed for guard assistance, "Army senior leadership expressed ... that it would not be their best military advice to have uniformed Guardsmen on the Capitol grounds."
Walker said that he was told "the Army senior leaders did not think that it looked good, it wouldn't be a good optic. They further stated that it could incite the crowd."
When asked if "optics'' were ever discussed by Army leadership during the 2020 summer Black Lives Matter protests, when the guard members were deployed throughout the city, Walker testified, "it was never discussed. The week of June it was never discussed. July 4th, when we supported the city, it was never discussed. August 28th, when we supported the city." When asked if he thought that was "unusual," he said he did.
Walker told lawmakers although it is an elaborate process in deploying the guard, it can happen quickly. "For example, in the first week of June, the secretary of the Army was with me, I watched him call the secretary of defense and consult with the attorney general and respond back to me with an approval within minutes," Walker said. "So it's an elaborate process, but it doesn't always have to be when in extreme circumstances we can get it done over the phone very quickly."
Walker said that at 1:49 p.m. on Jan. 6, he "received a frantic call" from Sund about rioters breaching the Capitol's security perimeter. Walker said Sund at that point relayed that it was a "dire emergency at the Capitol, and (Sund) requested the immediate assistance of as many available National Guardsmen that I could muster."
Immediately afterward, Walker said he alerted Army senior leadership, but the approval didn't happen and wasn't relayed to Walker from the acting defense secretary until three hours and 19 minutes later at 5:08 p.m.
The National Guard finally arrived at the Capitol at 5:20 p.m., was immediately was sworn in by Capitol Police and used to establish the security perimeter at the east side of the Capitol.
While Walker said that it took more than three hours to get DOD approval, his account conflicted with that of Robert Salesses, the senior official performing the duties of the assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security, who represented the Pentagon at the hearing but who was not on the call.
He testified that then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller approved full activation of the D.C. Guard at 3:04 p.m., that the Army secretary received the approval at 4:32 p.m. and that he then ordered the guard to the Capitol.
Walker, however, said he wrote down the time -- 5:08 p.m. -- when he got the formal approval by Army leadership. He said he had already effectively mobilized guard members to be ready to go immediately.
Salesses pushed back on Walker's contention that "optics" played a role in the delay deploying the guard, telling lawmakers that Army Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, another Pentagon official on the call, "did not use the word 'optics.'"
Salesses testified that Piatt is "not a decision maker. The only decision makers on the 6th of January, are the secretary of defense and the Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. It was a chain of command from the secretary of defense, Secretary McCarthy to Gen. Walker -- that was chain of command. There is a lot of staff involved in having discussions, but on that day that was the chain of command."
Salesses acknowledged that while Miller made his final decision to deploy the National Guard at 4:32 p.m., Walker was not told until 5:08 p.m., 36 minutes later.
Asked how that could happen, Salesses conceded to lawmakers that delayed communications played a part in some of the challenges of the day.
Walker told Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, he believes a study should look into the delayed response by the DOD to the D.C. National Guard's request to be deployed to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"It shouldn't take three hours to either say yes or no to an urgent request from either the Capitol Police, Park Police, the Metropolitan Police Department in an event like that where everybody saw it, it should not take three hours," Walker said.